In Monthey, Switzerland, Hugo Pozzo di Borgo produces artisanal vermouth in his backyard. After a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign last year, ALATA Vermouth has taken off. As one of only a handful of vermouth producers in Switzerland, ALATA has two types—Blanc (white) and Rouge (red), each flavored with about 15-20 herbs and plants. If you have never tried Vermouth before, or if it has been a long time, ALATA offers a new style of this fortified wine—a combination of dry, bitter and slightly sweet.
I recently met with Hugo and toured his workshop to learn about how and why he founded ALATA, named after his family’s ancestral village in Corsica. Even though he lacked a real business plan at the start, which he will fully admit himself, this young entrepreneur has a solid background in wine-making and a passion for developing the flavors of his product. He told me, “I’ve never had a plan in my life. I always try to do my best. I don’t really believe in plans.”
Using Swiss wines produced in the canton of Valais—Fendant for ALATA Blanc and Gamay for ALATA Rouge—Hugo has created a Vermouth you can enjoy on its own or mixed in a cocktail. His preference? It’s not a cocktail. He likes a glass of ALATA straight up—chilled, no ice.
A Wine Grower by Training
Trained as a wine grower (caviste), Hugo obtained his CFC (certificat fédéral de capacité) from the École d’agriculture du Valais – Châteauneuf. He also studied wine in France’s Burgundy region. In Valais, he worked with Christophe Abbet, a well-known and respected wine grower from Martigny. After trying a vermouth from a small producer in the US, however, he decided the time was right to start making his own style of vermouth in Switzerland.
Hugo acknowledges that his educational background and professional experience producing wine influences his approach to vermouth. Especially because the base of vermouth is wine, which he fortifies with brandy and flavors with aromatic plants, such as herbs, berries, roots and flowers. When he can, he tries to source all of his ingredients from Switzerland. He constantly works to find the right balance between different characteristics, like bitterness, acidity, fruit and sweetness.
ALATA’s Dry Vermouth – White and Red
Vermouth is derived from the word wermut, or wormwood in German, the plant also known as absinthe—often a key ingredient in this fortified wine.
Historically, vermouth has fallen into one of two categories: 1) a French style with a more dry, bitter flavor for making Martinis, and 2) an Italian style, with a sweeter taste used for making Manhattans or Negronis. ALATA Vermouth in my opinion, blends these two styles to some extent. Hugo adds caramelized sugar to both ALATA Blanc and ALATA Rouge, but they are also both quite dry, with the red being slightly sweeter.
He told me that most of his customers prefer one type over the other, which applies to me as well. While I like both versions of ALATA, since I generally prefer more dry and less sweet wines, I would usually go for the Blanc. At the same time, I also really enjoy the Rouge mixed with a dry Champagne or Prosecco, served in a fluted glass with a lemon peel garnish.
Cooking and Food Pairing with ALATA
When I asked Hugo about cooking with ALATA Vermouth, he responded: “When you heat it up, it will change the balance. The bitterness will get stronger, so you have to balance it with acidity.” He said they have had success using ALATA for preparing sauces for meat dishes or in desserts. Apparently, his sister has even been working on making an ALATA ice cream.
In terms of food pairing, ALATA Blanc, as an apéritif, pairs well with cheese at the beginning of the meal. At the same time, some people enjoy ALATA Rouge at the end of the meal, like you would a glass of port, with your favorite blue cheese.
Hugo also told me that he has worked with Julien Gaussares, the chef at Restaurant Héliantis (14 points, Gault & Millau) in Massongex, who matches ALATA Vermouth with his creative cuisine. For example, Chef Gaussares served ALATA Vermouth for an apéritif during a 3-course gastronomic picnic served on a hillside in Monthey last summer.
Given my slight preference for ALATA Blanc, I have reinvented my favorite cocktail—a classic gin and tonic with lime—into an even more fragrant version with this Swiss vermouth.
A fresh, herbal take on a classic gin & tonic.
- 60 mL (1/4 cup) ALATA Blanc
- 1 c.c. (1 teaspoon) gin
- 1 c.c. (1 teaspoon) eau-de-vie de gentiane
- 30 mL (2 tablespoons) tonic water
- ice cubes
- 1 slice of fresh lime
- Stir together the first three ingredients in an old-fashioned style glass.
- Add the tonic water to the drink.
- Add ice to the glass.
- Garnish with a slice of lime.
You can find more recipes for cocktails via ALATA’s website.
Along with producing ALATA Vermouth, Hugo participates in events throughout the year, such as hosting his own Ateliers Cocktails for private groups. For this entrepreneur who eschews more conventional business plans, he also has new products in development and many ideas for ALATA’s future. With a renewed interest in vermouth, ALATA is certainly on the forefront of this trend in Switzerland.
Where to find ALATA in Switzerland: